Monday, February 6, 2012
Central Principles of Daoism
Issue 59 | February 2002
By Adam Wallace
Daoist philosophy, which dates back almost 5,000 years, is so ingrained in Chinese culture that it forms the basis of its cosmology, sciences and medicine, folklore, mysticism, poetry, painting, calligraphy, martial arts, and Qigong
Daoism is not strictly a religion but a way of life which allows the follower to reconnect and live more closely with nature. Unlike religious worship of a Supreme Being, Daoism recognises a ‘supreme state of being’ which everyone can achieve through their own personal efforts. Dao is eternal, infinite, and beyond all time and space. It is the source of all being; the mother of the universe. It is the invisible thread which connects and permeates everything in existence. Laozi, the Sage, reluctantly termed it the Nameless (as well as The Unknowable, The Void, and The Way) as he knew words limit and Dao is limitless, beyond all description. Void is the very nature of Dao and to say that it exists is to exclude that which does not. Dao gave birth to One (the Universe or Unity), which created Two (Yin and Yang - the entire spectrum of complementary opposites including light and dark, male and female, mountains and valleys, etc.), which created Three (the Three Treasures -essence, energy, and spirit) which gave birth to the multitude of living things.
Dao is seen as a ceaseless flow, changing every moment. Yet the changes proceed in orderly cycles.We can predict day following night, the changing order of the seasons, and even Halley’s Comet which passes once every seventy-six years but other cycles are longer and harder to comprehend. Investigation into nature’s patterns allows us to predict events which is how the Daoist ‘Yijing’(or ‘Book of Changes’) was created. Daoists follow the principle of Non-action (Wu Wei) which is to act without forcing, moving in accordance with nature’s flow, and following the path of least resistance, like fish swimming with the current or a plant bending towards the sunlight. Stillness, which is central to Daoist philosophy, is to return to the original state of being. Meditation is the tool to achieve this. Activity should always alternate with periods of stillness and never be pushed to the point of strain. This is the principle of balance, necessary for a long and healthy life. The practitioner’s heart and mind should constantly remain calm. Anger, anxiety, desires, frustration etc. all disturb inner peace so it is best to reject them. The emotions should not be suppressed but transcended.The 5 Elements (wood, fire, earth,metal, and water), or five energies, exist everywhere in the universe. They are represented by the colours, directions, seasons, emotions, flavours, internal organs, climates etc. None is superior as each exerts a mutually creative(supporting) or destructive (restraining) influence upon the other. The Three Treasures have various manifestations within the cosmos. Within the confines of the human body Essence (Jing) is the seminal fluid and blood, Qi is vital energy, and Spirit (Shen) relates to the mind. These become weaker and coarser due to bad living habits and unrestrained desires, or lighter, purer and more refined if they are conserved and cultivated. Alchemy is the process of refining the spirit, generally disguised as the quest for converting base metals into gold. Daoists sought to refine a ‘goldenpill’ which bestowed perpetual youth, resistance to disease, and immortality(or immense longevity). Some ingested experimental compounds of cinnabar (sulphide of mercury), gold, silver, jade,pearls, silver, and even arsenic, many of whom died from poisoning. The highest form of Daoist alchemy is Qigong, which is natural and requires no external aid. The refining process involves conserving Jing, or bodily essences (the raw materials), and fusing it with Qi (the catalyst) through breathing practices and meditation, to develop Shen (unified mind, breath, and spirit).
There are essentially two goals in Daoism. The first involves living in accord with Nature. The second is the process of cultivation. The ego places a barrier between us and Dao so it must be dissolved until we become Selfless. This is to return to the Source, like a rain drop falling into the ocean. In death, the physical body (coarse matter) is discarded, like a snake shedding its skin, and if the consciousness (pure energy) has been developed to forge a strong ‘astral body’ it is free to become One with the Universe, and transcend death. So Daoists meditate to develop the mind in the quest for immortality, but a healthy body is necessary otherwise all the Qi is spent on healing, leaving none spare to develop the spirit. Speculation aside, on a truly practical level those who follow‘The Way’ and Daoist health regimens unquestionably attain longevity and in China 100 years in good health is tantamount to ‘Immortal.’